I’m a comedy nerd and so I love Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. where he does great interviews with comedians that often give you an insider’s look at the art and craft of funny. I’m generally not a huge fan of insult humor but in his weekly email he gives the best explanations of the style I’ve ever read, discussing his appearance on Jeff Ross’s COmedy Central show The Burn:
Insult comedy is very specific and it is completely detached from hate and even opinion if it is done well. That is why it seems insensitive and wrong-minded to some people, because it is. That is its intent. The laugh that occurs in reaction to mean, insult-style jokes is the laugh of shock and the release of the wrong. Whether it affirms or reinforces what people consider wrong in this world depends on how any individual processes the joke. Its intent is diffusion through the extreme embracing of taboos like impoliteness, political incorrectness and cultural/personal immorality. It releases something in the psyche that I would argue is rarely the affirmation or reinforcing of wrong thinking but the opposite. [pullquote align=”left”]Its intent is diffusion through the extreme embracing of taboos like impoliteness, political incorrectness and cultural/personal immorality.[/pullquote] What I found in writing jokes for the show on my own and with some of the writers was that there was almost no attachment to the subject matter other than to find the juice of wrong in the situation or event; to rip it open for the effect and the shock of embracing emotional and moral bankruptcy through an intentional lack of compassion and a turn of phrase to pop the laugh. The trick of it is to deliver it with a warmth and humility that belies the heart and intended harmlessness of the joke. It’s a delicate balance. It is its own form and when done well is hilarious.